When I was about 14 years of age, I played a game that touched me like no other game had before. Beyond the gameplay – the story, the breathtaking art design, visuals, and the touching music spoke to me at a level that reached the heart, mind, and soul. This game was Final Fantasy VIII. For the first time, I connected and related to a video game on a deeper emotional level. While I had played Final Fantasy games prior to that, I never really took notice of these deeper aspects. So I made it my goal to go back and play as many of the Final Fantasy games that came out prior, over again, in addition to those that were to come out after; and I noticed something: One of the constants found throughout all of these games was the amazing music, generally composed by one man – Nobuo Uematsu. Without these musical accompaniments, these games would lack a large part of their appeal.
Now I know I’m not the only one who has been touched by Final Fantasy and its music. I know this because the soundtracks from these games have gone on to sell tons of copies. I know this because I have friends who also love the music. I know this because there are online communities dedicated to Final Fantasy and its music. I know this because this past weekend, I was able to attend a sold out concert featuring the best music from 25 years of Final Fantasy – Distant Worlds: Music From Final Fantasy.
First, I must give a huge thanks to the folks over at AWR Music Productions. Without their awesome support, I wouldn’t have been able to attend this show. It was a just about 100% sold out show that they were kind enough to get me a pass to at the last minute. So again, thanks to AWR Music for a night I will not forget.
This amazing concert, produced by AWR Music Productions, was directed/conducted by Arnie Roth – yes that Arnie Roth. The Grammy award-winning artist who has worked with some incredible talents around the globe like, Diana Ross, Il Divo, Charlotte Church, and Jewel. But he’s also well-known in the gaming community, especially when it comes to work with music from Final Fantasy in conjunction with Nobuo Uematsu. Speaking of Nobuo (does he really need an introduction?), yes, the man, the legend, was right there with us enjoying the orchestral arrangements from the audience.
The concert opened up with a beautiful medley mainly comprised, like the rest of the show, of stringed ensembles. The enchanting medley was just a taste of things to come for the next couple of hours of music from Final Fantasy games close to our hearts. Arnie Roth was both the conductor and host of the concert, introducing the orchestra, Nobuo Uematsu, and a familiar voice who would go on to sing several popular songs from the Final Fantasy series, Susan Calloway.
The orchestra was fairly small in comparison to the Legend of Zelda concert that I attended in the same hall last year, but it still effectively conveyed melodies and emotions in a powerful manner. One other notable item that was missing from the performance was a chorus, which I will come back to later.
The show was lovely and more refined than similar gaming concerts like Video Games Live. While it was treated as a classical performance by the producers and conductor – the level of refinement may also have been due, in large part, to the crowd that attended. To my surprise, it was made up of mainly adults or people in their late teens. Couples were on dates, friends who shared a love of a game sat together, and many others took the time to see this magnificent performance. Yes, there were a few children scattered about, but it was a fairly mature crowd in attendance. Surprising yet again, considering this was Miami.
I wish I could have taken pictures for you, but although I was permitted to do so by AWR Music, the center where the performance was being held, once again stopped me from doing so, even in a subtle manner. Strange though, I have seen some images popping up online from that very same night. Have a search and see what you can find!
The night was magical, music played in unison with clips and montages from Final Fantasy games on the big screen above the orchestra. Songs that pulled on heart-strings and others that brought out excitement were played for all to enjoy and elicit. The performance was not just about the music, but also about the fans, which was made very clear when two special requests were fulfilled at the event. Prior to the touching theme song for Final Fantasy VII’s Aerith, a special message was put on-screen – a marriage proposal for an audience member, Ariel. And she said, “yes.” Of course the newly engaged couple got claps and cheers from the crowd and performers alike – but that was not the end of the surprises. Later in the night, another special message was shown on-screen, this time prior to another deeply moving piece, Zanarkand from Final Fantasy X. Yes, another marriage proposal was given (to a no doubt lovely lady named Kelly), and again, a “yes” was given to cheers and claps. Congrats to both newly engaged couples.
The orchestral arrangements were just a delight to hear, but the songs were just as wonderful as well. Susan Calloway, who has been on tour with Distant Worlds and whose voice may be recognized from the theme song of Final Fantasy XIV gave her renditions of some of Final Fantasy’s most popular songs, such as Final Fantasy XII’s Kiss Me Goodbye and a fan favorite (also my favorite FF song), FF VIII’s Eyes on Me. It was great to hear these songs being sung and performed to an amazing orchestra live; even with the twist Calloway gave each tune to make it her own.
Highlights of the show included:
- FF IV: Battle with The Four Fiends
- FF VIII: Eyes On Me
- FF VI: Phantom Forest
- FF X: Zanarkand
- FF XII: Kiss Me Good-bye
- FF V: Main Theme
- FF VII: Aerith’s Theme
- FF VIII: Man with the Machine Gun
- FF IX: Melodies of Life
- FF V: Main Theme
“But what about Nobuo?” You might wonder. Yes, he went on stage briefly too; taking up the keyboard while Roth did a solo violin performance for Final Fantasy VI, Dark World. What a treat that was. Mr. Uematsu also took the time to run across stage a few times after that to the delight of fans.
Needless to say, I enjoyed the performance tremendously and as could be seen at the end of the show, the rest of the crowd did as well as a standing ovation was given. And what of the missing chorus that I said I would get back to? Well, it seems like we didn’t need one until the final act of the night was a piece that just had to be included in the show – One Winged Angel. The theme for Final Fantasy VII’s Sephiroth was our encore performance, but it got the audience involved. Ever wonder what the lyrics to that song were? Well, we had a quick lesson as this turned into a sing-a-long. Yes, the audience was the chorus. As One Winged Angel was performed, the lyrics were shown on-screen and to my surprise, the audience caught on quite well and it sounded great. Most notably was the part that separated male vocals from female vocals near the end of the song. Kudos to the crowd and kudos to the orchestra, Arnie Roth, Nobuo Uematsu, and Susan Calloway for an enjoyable performance.
I can’t recommend this show enough. If you are a person who loves music, a gamer, a fan of Final Fantasy, I hope you get a chance to see this show. I almost missed it! This was the first time the long-running tour came to Miami. In fact, it was the first time it came to Florida at all, and I’m so glad I got to see it. I almost lost hope when it came to seeing this show that I have been following since its inception six years ago; but I’m glad I didn’t because it came, I saw it, and it was worth it. Finally, my dreams, my hopes, my fantasy of seeing this show, became a reality.
[Note: A complimentary ticket to Distant Worlds: music from Final Fantasy was provided for this review]